In Palestine 60 years ago: Operation Nachshon and the awful events at the Palestinian village of Deir Yassin—a turning point in the First Arab-Israeli War
Deir Yassin Remembered
During the Jewish campaign to open up the corridor between the coast and Jerusalem in April 1948 (Operation Nachshon), the most significant event was the massacre of 100-110 Palestinian villagers at Deir Yassin on the city's western edge on April 9. The attack on the village was carried out by two Jewish underground organizations, IZL (Irgun Z'vai Leumi) and LHI (Lehame Herut Israel [Stern Gang]), with the apparent agreement of the Haganah in Jerusalem. As the attack progressed, it was met with fierce and unexpected resistance. Though the villagers had been friendly toward the Jews, not allowing Palestinian resistance fighters to stay there, they had understandably armed themselves against possible attack.
Now they resisted. The fighting went so badly for the Jewish attackers that they resorted to dynamiting houses, killing men, women and children.
The immediate result of the massacre was to galvanize Arab hatred, but also to create fear to such a degree that a Palestinian refugee exodus was set in motion. It was indeed a turning point that made the Jewish successes in the days ahead much easier. But it also set the pattern for reprisal. On April 13, the Palestinians launched a six hour attack on a ten-vehicle convoy bound for the Hadassah Hospital-Hebrew University campus on Mount Scopus. In a brutal end to the confrontation, two armored buses were torched and more than 70 mostly unarmed Jewish doctors, nurses and lecturers lost their lives.
Sixty years ago, events in Palestine set in motion an inevitable coming clash of Arabs and Jews over refugees and Jerusalem—Part Two
In February 1948, Ben-Gurion gave orders to the Haganah (the Jewish underground) to take possession of more Arab areas in West Jerusalem and to populate them with Jews.
In March, the Haganah agreed on offensive actions (Plan D[alet]) against the Palestinians, including the expulsion of the population of entire Arab villages.
On March 31 Ben-Gurion met with Haganah leaders and ordered an attack on the Arab village of Kastel, which overlooked the Tel Aviv–Jerusalem road. Several weeks before the official British withdrawal, the plan became operational, with a view to opening a corridor from the coast to Jerusalem (Operation Nachshon), and annexing "as much of the city as possible to the Jewish state" (Michael Hudson, "Transformation of Jerusalem," 258).
Though Ben-Gurion later claimed that the Negev was his first priority (Memoirs, 136-7), based on interviews with Yigal Allon, Yigael Yadin and Ben-Gurion, foreign correspondent Dan Kurzman wrote: "The full impact of his lifelong obsession with the Bible struck with blistering force when it appeared that Jerusalem would fall to the Arabs and perhaps be lost forever to the Jewish state. Whatever happened to any other Jewish areas, the Holy City must be saved. It was the soul of the Jewish people, the fount of the light to be cast unto the nations. He had agreed that it be internationalized as a temporary concession. But an Arab flag over Jerusalem? Not for one minute!" (Ben-Gurion, 279).
The stage was set for a decades long clash over Jerusalem as well as the Palestinian refugee question.